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Meet the BioMotiv Team: Dr. Mika Guerard, Project Operations Director

By: Kimberly Schonhorst

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Mika Guerard, PhD, MBA, is the Project Operations Director for OptiKira, a biotech start-up developing a therapeutic to prevent cell death in diseases such as pulmonary fibrosis, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), cancer, diabetes, retinitis pigmentosa, and neurodegenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

 Mika has 10 years of research experience in organic and medicinal chemistry.  Prior to embarking on a career in research, Mika spent four years working in the financial sector. I sat down with Mika to learn more about how her career trajectory led her to BioMotiv, and what advice she has for women who are interested in a career in the life sciences.

What motivated you to pursue a career in science?
I always wanted to be a doctor, but did not have the funds, so I began my career in finance. Once I had the funds, I started my undergraduate degree from scratch. During my time in undergrad the second time, I thought Organic Chemistry was so much fun! My professor took me into his lab and I became his research assistant. Due to a scholarship I received for the project, I stayed in that lab through the end of my PhD. The research was on an hypervalent iodine reagent which has the capacity to invert the polarity of a molecule, allowing synthetic chemists, such as myself, to build molecules quicker.

Why did you simultaneously get an MBA?
Many big pharma companies were closing their Montreal locations, so mid-PhD I had to decide what to do. I could stop my PhD and change fields, or I could find a way to distinguish myself from my peers. I already had a background in Finance, so the MBA was a way for me to round out and formalize my finance and business experience.

What is it like to be a woman in science? How does it compare to the environment at BioMotiv?
If you’re a woman in organic chemistry, you have to hustle. You always have to prove yourself because there are added judgements and male colleagues have a tendency to think you are less competent or less of a hard worker. I was often the only woman in my lab or in my job at the company. It is tough, but if you like it and want to do it, it is possible. I find that BioMotiv is full of amazing, brilliant people who have a genuine intention of creating a team spirit and work together to achieve the company’s goals: improving the lives of patients. Everyone is always willing to help each other out, which is very different than my prior experience in science where everything was so competitive.

What advice would you give to young women who have an interest in science?
Don’t ask yourself: “Am good enough to be able to do this?” As yourself: “Do I want to do this?” We all can learn.  If you do what you love and believe in, you will enjoy putting in the necessary effort and you will get better. 

If you could choose any career outside of science (or finance), what would it be and why?
I would be an entrepreneur. Not to make money but to make a difference by creating a “for women by women” company. One side would be for-profit offering services and would help fund and gather funding for the not-for-profit side, which would help women in difficult living situations.

What do you like to do outside of work?
I’m open to trying anything, but it is essential that I do CrossFit and run every day. I like the people at CrossFit, and it feels like playing. I listen to the news while running. With coffee, these are the three essentials.  If more snow comes our way, I will be finally able to ski!

 

To learn more about OptiKira, visit www.OptiKira.com.

Click here to learn more about BioMotiv’s mission-driven approach to accelerating breakthrough discoveries into medicines.

Erin Reese